Well to be fair it actually started about 6 years ago when God called me into this crazy nonsense that is Ministry in the Church of England. Some may baulk at the word nonsense and of course there is a tongue firmly stuck in my cheek when I say that, but if you’ve read my Guide to the Discernment Process you will know that sometimes it’s all just a bit bonkers. But for me, I’m approaching the end of that crazy process as in just 6 months time I will be ordained. The ‘O’ word has been looming and I can’t quite believe I’ve got to this stage, but as with discernment I wanted to blog about it all, because I know from experience there are others going through it all and feeling a bit like ‘what is this?’ so a new part of the blog is starting here: The Curate’s Journey. Now it might be a little thin on the ground post-wise in the next few months as I don’t start my curacy until the end of June but there is plenty of build up to write about so it starts here!
And of course I haven’t even written about how you find a curacy. It was so hush hush I wasn’t allowed to say anything for ages! So, how does the whole process of finding a curacy work? Well I don’t know about all the dioceses but down here in Chichester, it works a bit like this…
In spring of the year preceding ordination – so if training part time this will probably be the 2nd year of study, or, if full time (unless mixed mode) the first year – now that is scary! (means you’ve only been in training for about 6 months before you have to think about your first post), then your diocese will be in touch with you and ask you to fill in form Appendix B. Yes, yes imaginatively titled I know, but I’m not sure we can’t expect much more from the CofE. Appendix B is about as exciting as it sounds, one might hope for a list of deep and searching questions aiming to get a clear picture of you and what you might offer any potential church, but sadly not. No, there are very few options to express a personality, those that do are tick boxes asking you to clarify what kind of ministry you are training for, which style of churchmanship you might best minister in, what type of area you might want to go to (e.g: urban, rural etc) although even these are rather vague, I mean what even is ‘semi-rural’ or a ‘country town’ – I’m not sure we’d all agree on those so how do you know what to tick?! So as you can see not much chance to express an opinion. Then you are pretty much at the hands of the diocese, trying to match you up with a church where you might both be able to work together in beautiful harmony and friendship, (ahem) or more likely just to able to get on for 3 (or 4) years and not to do any lasting damage.
So, for me having filled in this form it was some months (from memory I think about 4) before I heard anything at all from the diocese. At this point I received an email from my DDO in which the training incumbent of my potential curacy (aka: title post) was copied in and we were asked to meet each other to discuss the possibility further.
This was relatively straight forward. I met him and another member of staff, we chatted in detail, we got on, both agreed to think and pray about it and talk a week later. We both agreed we wanted to go ahead and then passed that on to the diocese to formalise it. Easy peasy. However this is not the case for everyone and I know of several ordinands who have not yet been placed. This happens for various reasons: not enough curacies available, they can’t match you up with a suitable place, or some agreed curacies then change last minute if the incumbent (i.e. person in charge of where you are going : The Vicar) is ill or gets a job elsewhere, or just changes their mind – has been known. The thing is whilst we are of course at the mercy of God in this whole process, and the word: TRUST looms like a beacon over your life for some years, we are also at the mercy of the powers that be: The Church of England (and it’s not unheard of to wonder sometimes if they are more powerful than God…). They literally hold your life in their hands and it can feel very disconcerting, especially if the process of finding a ‘title post’ does not go smoothly, and whilst I shall not go into it all here I have heard of more than one case where frankly you wonder whether they actually care at all or have any touch with the reality of family life. But enough on that. Look it can be tough, really tough, and let’s face it if you haven’t got a thick skin yet you are going to need one.
Of course, I did talk to my husband too and whilst the job looked perfect we also weighed up what it meant for him and for our kids. They usually send you a parish profile with plenty of info about the church and area, including what housing you can expect so there is a bit of info to help you decide. We were fortunate that we knew the town we are going to, but if you don’t, do some homework before jumping right in! Google is your friend…
Now then, if for whatever reason you do not get ‘placed’ then you will probably be released from your diocese – which means they give up on finding you a job (sort of) and then you can look elsewhere. This can actually work very well as the constraints put on you by having been in the same diocese for years are then gone, you get a chance to actually look around, speak to other dioceses and see what is available. So it’s definitely not the end of the world. In fact some people I know have actively sought to do this for personal reasons, e.g: family, work etc and have then gone on to find postings elsewhere successfully. Life’s circumstances do change and the church is aware of that and can make provision for it.
So for me then, the curacy was all finalised in September last year and announced in October, although it was frustrating having to wait to tell people! The usual form is that you don’t publicise it until it is formally announced. Frustrating as that may be, it is not without reason, and allows both the sending parish and the receiving parish to let people know at the same time, avoiding any of those awkward conversations, which may sound silly but my own Mum attends craft fairs at one of the churches in the parish I am going to, so you can just imagine her saying to someone ‘oh did you know my daughter is coming to work here’ before anyone had officially heard. However it is usual for people do tell those closest to them rather than wait months and my mother was sworn to secrecy!
Then basically nothing much happens for months on end. It seems very strange to have it all worked out, to know exactly where you are going and everyone knows that and then you just carry on with life for the next, in some cases, if you have it sorted early, year! I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me ‘so, when are you moving?’ in an almost bored tone, and to be fair to them, I think in some senses we prepare ourselves for change and then stop. So it is a bit of a strange time really. For me I have chosen to try not to think about where I am going at all, I know what I’m like and I would get all excited and want to plan and do things, when actually I have a job I love, a home I love and we are settled here, for the time being. For others you may need that time to prepare, to plan etc so it can be useful.
Now I find suddenly in January of the year of my ordination things are starting to happen and that will be the next post as this one is long enough as it is.
I would love to hear from others who’ve been through this recently, if anyone wants to share their experiences? I know it can differ across the country, and if this is going to be a helpful resource like the discernment guide, then I could do with some more input, so do get in touch.
PS: if you didn’t know, I shall be off to ‘Trinity’ in Lewes, which comprises 3 churches in the town, and we are really looking forward to it 🙂
PamJanuary 14, 2016 at 3:16 pm
The finding a curacy process for me was very messy, your description of it feeling as if people have no understanding of family life is spot on. It’s not recent for me – although it feels it – as I was deaconed in 2004. I understand what you mean about ‘nonsense’, but some people (and I was one of them) get caught up in the cogs of the ‘machine’ and take years to get through the discernment process, and others are given a NO, which is a very painful experience. So I’d like to see things clarified more for the sake of those who are unable to proceed to ordination than for those who do . We are the lucky ones.
Incidentally, after my experiences I did discover that God definitely is more powerful than the C of E, though I’m not sure everyone realises this!
JulesJanuary 15, 2016 at 2:53 pm
Thanks Pam, yes that all sounds very familiar, when I was writing the Discernment Guide there were several people who had really struggled with getting a ‘no’ and the lack of support there was. Definitely needs to be more clarification or standardising to some extent (obvs recognising that we are all individuals though!) and certainly more pastoral support. After all this is an organisation based on love and compassion…
Paul WhiteFebruary 6, 2016 at 9:25 am
My home diocese offered me a title post (back in 2008) and we looked at it with an open mind but as my wife and I got into the car to come home we both looked at each other and said ‘no way’. Didn’t gel with the training incumbent and the house was a nightmare. So we turned it down and I was ‘released’ by my home diocese. I then emailed the DDO of some other dioceses and immediately got an email back from Canterbury asking me to look at a lovely rural group. We had a wonderful 4 1/2 years there and it was a great start to ordained life. So having the courage to say ‘no’ and being ‘released’ is OK!